Monday, 7 April 2014

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

How do you make a reader so utterly hooked on the outcome of a character that the book becomes impossible to put down?

Keep killing the character off.

Kate Atkinson's Life After Life had me hooked after the first few pages. This English author, who won the Costa Book Award 2013 with this captivating novel, asks the question: what would happen if you were to die...and then could start your life all over again?

Born in 1910 and living through two World Wars via multiple life-lines, Atkinson's protagonist, Ursula, experiences life on both sides of the Second World War. As such, the novel captures both the German and British perspective - Ursula finds herself in one instance working as a secretary for the Home Office, and in the next, being in close acquaintance with Hitler's mistress, and with the Fuhrer himself.

From dying in her cot, to dying on the streets of London in a bombing, Atkinson makes us wonder every time: will the outcome be any different for Ursula? Are we not all going to die in the end? And if so, does it really matter when or how?

Every time that "darkness falls",  the narrative loops back and starts again (from different stages in her life - the moment which marks where it all went wrong). Each time, Ursula has some kind of intuitive feeling that she should live her life differently. When she comes to realise that she has lived before, she decides to do this with a purpose - with not just her own life at stake.

Atkinson's novel is provocative and dazzling, and one that I will definitely be recommending - a stunning example of a UK author with awesome talent for storytelling.

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